For many in Frankfort, Dr. William Exum is the name on the front of Kentucky State University’s William Exum Center for health, physical education and recreation.
To those who knew him, he was so much more.
Exum, who served KSU in several capacities during a career that spanned more than 30 years, was announced this week as part of the 2019 class of the Kentucky Sports Hall of Fame fueled by the Kentucky Lottery.
“He was very intelligent, very outspoken,” said Ken Gibson, who worked for Exum as the track coach at KSU.
“If he hired you to do a job, he didn’t try to micromanage you. As long as you did your job and stayed within the rules, he didn’t bother you and gave all the support he could give you.”
Exum, originally from Rock Island, Illinois, was the first African American football player at the University of Wisconsin and earned three letters in track at Wisconsin in the 1930s.
He was KSU’s athletic director from 1949-1977 and at different times during his tenure also served as chairman of the Department of Health and Physical Education and track, tennis and cross country coach, leading the men’s cross country team to the 1964 NCAA Div. II national championship.
In 1971 Gibson coached KSU’s men’s track team to the NCAA Div. II national championship.
“He came to meets when he could,” Gibson said of Exum. “He was our biggest supporter outside of my wife.”
Ron Moore met Exum in 1971 when he arrived on campus as a football player.
“He was my adviser,” Moore said. “He’d advise me on what classes to take, and he’d advise me on life. At the end of my freshman year I was signed up for a class of his, and he said, ‘Ron, I see you played basketball at Maysville. I think you’d make a pretty good assistant coach for Miss C.Y. Russell,’ and he hired me as an assistant coach.
“Dr. Exum and his wife (Helen) were fine people,” Moore added. “They not only advised you in the classroom but in life. Dr. Exum cared about students inside and outside the classroom.”
Exum was well known in the track world, serving as the assistant manager of the United States’ men’s Olympic track and field team in 1972 and as the head manager of the USA team in 1976.
He was a member of the Athletics Congress of the USA Olympic Track and Field Committee and the selection committee of the National Track Hall of Fame. He served as chairman of the National Summer Youth Sports Administrative Committee.
Exum, who died in 1988, was inducted into the National Association of College Directors of Athletics Hall of Fame in 1978.
“Any place I traveled, in the U.S. or Europe, people always asked about Dr. Exum, how is he doing,” Gibson said. “He made a name for himself and Kentucky State.
“He was a great person to work for and a great person to know.”
Exum is one of six people in this year’s Hall of Fame class. The others are Ralph Hacker (radio), Derek Anderson (basketball), Deion Branch (football), Willis Augustus Lee (shooting) and Nate Northington (football).
A selection committee made up of 16 sports media representatives from throughout the state, along with a bygone era committee compised of current members of the KSHOF, selected this year’s class.
The 2019 class and their families will be honored on Aug. 19 at the Galt House in Louisville.